I want you to forward, share, post, tweet, and G+1 this column to any and everyone you know who lives in New Orleans (hell, you can even go old school and print and fax!).
Why? Because this column is about the one phone number each and every New Orleanian should know (residents of Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes should know it, too). It’s a number that has the potential to not only improve the lives of all of us who live here, but also lift the glorious spirit of our wondrous city and magical region.
504-826-2675 is a number for people in crisis. Any person in crisis who lives in Orleans, Plaquemines or St. Bernard parishes. Whether the crisis is related to mental illness, developmental disabilities, or addiction to alcohol, drugs or gambling.
Now, stop right there. Before you say, “Someone else, not me,” admit to yourself this one truth: There is not a person among us, especially in this city, who has not been touched by mental illness. Not one. If you yourself haven’t struggled with mental illness, you know someone who has. A family member, a friend, a colleague, a neighbor.
And, odds are, you haven’t known what to do.
That is because, as a country, most people are afraid of mental illness. Many of us see mental illness (or addiction for that matter) as a character flaw. People with developmental disabilities make us uncomfortable because they look different or act different. And, so, we pretend not to see what we see. Even if the person we see is the one staring us back in the mirror.
The fact is that there is nothing wrong with someone with mental illness, any more than there is something wrong with someone with diabetes. People with mental illness (or addictions or developmental disabilities) don’t need judgment, they don’t need pity. They need services. Which can be a problem in a city like New Orleans or a state like Louisiana. Face it, most folks around here don’t talk much about being healthy and, when they do, they complain that it’s hard to be healthy in a broken, underfunded system.
That has to change. The stigma has to change. The system has to change. The conversation has to change.
So 826-2675 is a step in the right direction on all fronts.
When you call that number, you immediately have access to a functioning and complete system specifically designed for folks who are in crisis (or close to being in crisis).
It’s a system you can trust. Why? Well, to be blunt, because it’s not the NOPD. 826-2675 is staffed by health care professionals who understand the often scary and unsettling intersection of mental illness and crisis. Professionals who know how to get you the help you need to make your way through that intersection; back to a point of being healthy and stable.
Here’s how it works. When you call 826-2675 (have you memorized it yet?), the folks on the other end of the phone will help you figure out what’s going on and what you need. In a sign of how important a number like this is, 85 percent of callers have their crisis resolved over the phone. Free of charge. Completely confidential. Just that (knowledgable, compassionate) voice on the other end is all that’s needed to right their emotional ship.
For about 15 percent of the folks who call, a team of mental health professionals (again, not the police) actually go to the caller’s home to talk, in person, about what’s going on and to work together to find the right resources. For about a third of those folks, that visit (to a home, a bridge, wherever y’at) does the trick. For another third, arrangements are made to get the caller into New Orleans’ first respite bed program for people in crisis (a wonderful program called New Hope NOLA); for the other third, the team that made the home visit helps get the caller to the emergency room (where they follow-up to make sure care is actually provided).
I tell you this not so you can become an expert in understanding all the ins and outs of what people in health care call a “crisis continuum.” I share this so you can see that, contrary to how so many of us view the health care system in New Orleans, there actually is a system that can help. Right now.
That’s why I ask you to memorize 826-2675. Ask your friends to do it, too. Even people who aren’t your friends. Make sure everyone knows. Because none of us know when we or someone we know might fall into a crisis.
But, now, we all know what to do.
The crisis continuum is a program offered by Metropolitan Human Services District which, together with its partners, oversees the delivery of publicly-funded, community-based mental health, addictive disorders and developmental disabilities services for residents of Orleans, Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes.
Brett Will Taylor is a southern Shaman who writes Love NOLA weekly for NolaVie. Visit his site at ashamansjourney.net.